US Progressive Power Metallers Kamelot are a band close to my heart, my first contact with the band’s music having been back in 1999, via the mesmerising tunes of their fourth studio album “The Fourth Legacy”. Needless to say, conducting a one-to-one chat with founding member and guitarist Thomas Youngblood on the night of the band’s latest London show was an exciting prospect for me. Focusing on their soon to be released latest offering “Haven”, but covering a few more interesting topics, the following is the discussion I had with the guitar maestro an hour or so before his powerful combo ripped the roof off the O2 Islington Academy in North London.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Thomas. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us. The last few years have found Kamelot going from strength to strength and here we are now sitting next to each other and are about to have a discussion about one such album, your latest offering entitled “Haven”. It’s an album I’ve only recently been granted access to so I do not know it as well as I would have wanted in preparation for this interview – still, from the few hours I managed to commit to it I have realised both its worth and importance for the band.
Thomas: Cool, nice to hear that.
- Now, the album is scheduled for release this May. Why did you choose to come to London and play a show for us at this moment in time? Is it a case of simply taking advantage of the fact that you had to play in Wales yesterday so you were ‘round the corner’, so to speak?
Thomas: Well, yes. We had planned to do the Wales show as part of the “Silverthorn” tour so then we thought “let’s add some club shows in Dublin and London”. We had no idea that the London show would end up being sold out two months before the actual show! It was more of an idea to throw in a couple of shows so as to fill up our time once we came over. Now, obviously, our fan base over here is getting larger and that is an absolute pleasure for us…anyway, what we have here is not the beginning of the “Haven” tour but still part of the “Silverthorn” tour. It’s kind of difficult to play shows live from an album that is coming out in two months, but tonight we’re going to play a new song for our fans because they’ve always shown their support to us, coming to our shows quite early in the day, so they will get a sneak peak of what the new album is going to be about.
- Hopefully that means that the tour that you have already announced on your website as starting later this year will include another London date. Is that indeed the case?
Thomas: Actually, this is exactly what I have been talking to our promoter about earlier today. We will be adding a London show at the end of our European tour. We have one day open in the autumn which would fit in perfectly, so we’ll see…that is my plan anyway. We will come back once the new album is out and everybody knows all the new songs.
- I’ve had the chance of watching quite a few bands performing here at the O2 Islington Academy these last few years and, although slightly small, especially for a band of your standards and the success you are currently enjoying, I am hopeful for a good show tonight – the kind that brings a band and its crowd closer together. Are you satisfied from the sound check that you are being provided with everything you need in order to offer us a good show?
Thomas: That’s what I was saying. Sometimes in the middle of a festival season you will do a smaller show in a venue like this one, but that also depends on timing as with anything else. We had already performed one show in London for the “Silverthorn” tour so it made sense for us to do an ‘underplay’, which describes the scenario where you play at a venue that is much smaller than the one you would normally perform in. We were actually quite floored by the response this show received quite early on and that’s why it makes sense for us to come back again and perform while on the “Haven” tour, with a bigger production in our hands. That’s my goal (laughs).
- The couple of spins I did manage to give “Haven” were enough to make me realise that this is an album that will be both familiar to fans but also one that will introduce them to new elements and ideas. What I found is that “Haven” sounds much more confident than “Silverthorn”, and that comment is not intended to take anything away from your previous album but it is perhaps more of a direct result of the current line up being more in tune, more in harmony perhaps. Did you have a specific idea/direction in mind before you started putting the album together?
Thomas: Honestly, our original intention was to create an album that would include separate songs, each with its own topic. When we did “Silverthorn” there was a lot of work involved in order to make each composition fit to the story but we did notice when we started writing and working on lyrics that the songs for “Haven” had this topic – a similar type of topic whether that was insomnia…in the “Veil Of Elysium” there is this undertone of how our society is gradually swirling out of control and, for some reason, this theme found its way through to all of our songs. So, even though “Haven” is not a concept record, there is a theme to the album and it has more of this sort of…a song like “Beautiful Apocalypse” has this mixture of beautiful melodies and choirs but also it features parts that are heavy and dark which help create a cool contrast to the song.
- The approach you describe is quite theatrical in the sense that it introduces the audience through a variety of ideas and feelings to its underlying message. You achieve a sense of catharsis you need to allow yourself to go really low – you first have to go through hell before you reach your goal and find yourself cleansed when you come out the other side. It’s almost as if you’re trying to teach your fans an important lesson through music.
Thomas: Yes…feel a little bit of pain first…yes, maybe…I like that! You know, with every record we work as much as we can on every aspect, whether that is music, lyrics or artwork and we always strive to do the best we can under the given circumstances. So far, the fans have been amazing and understanding. With this record we started by providing classic Kamelot ideas in terms of the vocal melodies and the rhythm but we were also keen on adding some fresh new ideas. I think that our fans want that and we, as a band, also want that.
- It must be quite a daunting thing every time you start working on a new album to realise the kind of expectations that are at play. I mean, on one hand, you need to come up with a product which shows your signature style, while, on the other, you need to make sure that your songs have something fresh and exciting to offer. As the main composer and, really, the heart and soul of Kamelot, how do you deal with such a difficult situation?
Thomas: Well, it all comes pretty natural in the end and, with Oliver and Tommy now writing, things are great for me because this takes a lot of the pressure off me and, you know, we are really at that point, with eleven studio albums out, where we really do not feel that we have to prove anything to anyone. We might have had a couple of albums in the past where the end result was deemed to be a bit too experimental but I think that with “Haven” we were able to stick to our signature sound but also add some elements that are pretty overwhelming, you know? I think that is really an important kind of balance that a band like us needs to have achieved and we have.
- You are in a privileged position where you can attract fans who naturally support a variety of different genres, something I once again realised when looking at the people who are queuing outside to attend your show. Some wear traditional Metal attire; others are more Goth looking while you also get the odd ones who look like they have joined the wrong queue by accident. Still, when reacting to your songs in a live environment, these people seem to find a way of coming together as one strong unit. That is quite an important achievement, for any band.
Thomas: I think that it has to do with the type of spirit that our fans tend to have and the result of us as a band working towards building that very special vibe with our fans. Of course, the fact that we mix so many different genres in our music helps attract both the Prog guy and the Goth teenager. It is really a testament to us being able to forge all these different musical influences into one. I trust that our fans understand how much we really respect them.
- I have no qualms in admitting that when Khan left the band I was pretty worried as to what that would mean in terms of Kamelot’s future. I mean, he did front the band during its most important period and he has been responsible for the creation of some of the most iconic Kamelot compositions to date – the kind of person that most bands would deem to be irreplaceable. Tommy’s incorporation into the band has been so smooth and natural to the point that one feels that nothing major has changed in the band as a result of Khan’s departure. You realise that you have really struck gold with him, right?
Thomas: Yes, that’s true. Thomas is also singing for a band called Seventh Wonder and I found out about him as I was looking through the bands at ProgPower. We had to cancel a US tour when Khan left but we did say let’s do ProgPower. So, I checked at the bands and I listened to his voice and it came across as pretty familiar to me in terms of the stuff that I grew up listening to. I love Joey Tempest from Europe, that style of vocals, and Don Dokken. A lot of times Roy’s voice sounded like that also, so it fitted to that whole picture that I wanted to keep for the band.
- Do you feel that his inclusion to the band added an element to your music that was missing before?
Thomas: Yeah; I am not sure whether such a statement is valid in terms of the way we create our music but he has certainly added a different dynamic into our live shows. He is quite interactive with both the fans and the band on stage and that is a cool experience, you know? You can tell that every one of us whose on stage really wants to be there. To me, the lyrics he has prepared for “Haven” are some of the best in Kamelot’s career – I really, really like them.
- Kamelot are one of those bands which really offers the full package – the music is layered, diverse and thematically challenging in equal measure and the visual representation of your songs in a live setting is equally impressive. That, of course, suggests to me that preparing a stage setting for this new tour must be quite demanding for you. I mean, we are used to you guys providing a certain level of quality – one that you guys must feel the need to reach and exceed each time. What are we to expect in that regard during the “Haven” tour?
Thomas: The stage set up will be a little bit different this time, but you won’t see that tonight. We’re going to be adding different layers and textures to the way the stage will be set up so as to make things a bit more interesting. We’ve always done a lot of pyros in Europe so we might scale that down and do more lights or something, you know? We will try to find some new way to change this a bit.
- Kamelot are at such a stage in their career where you really should be playing big venues and summer festivals that can offer you the types of stages that can accommodate your needs. With the new album coming out in May, is it too late to book a slot in some of the most prestigious festivals in Europe?
Thomas: A little bit, yes. We’re doing three or four festivals, most of them in Eastern Europe but next year we will play some of the bigger ones. Now, I love playing festivals, they are cool, but it’s not the same like us playing our own headlining shows like the L13 where it’s 3,000 people or like in Norway where we can get 2,000 people attending – placed where each and every fan is there just for you, you know? It is a sense of community that you get from shows like that, one which large festivals cannot provide.
- Well, Europe has embraced Kamelot pretty much since day one, so what I am wondering is how are things in the States for you at the moment. Are you happy with the amounts of people that are visiting your shows over there?
Thomas: Yeah! Actually the US is our biggest market in terms of sales and we tend venues whose sizes vary from 800 to 3,000 people and I believe that we are one of the few bands in this genre who are doing that. I don’t know whether this has to do with the fact that most of us are from America or not. We have been fortunate to have had a pretty stable fan base in all those countries that are very relevant for Metal. We are going to do a north American tour starting in April with Dragonforce as our special guests and that tour goes through Canada, the East Coast, West Coast…it will be a good tour.
- And this coming September you will be back in Europe as you already mentioned before. Now, if I know anything of you guys this tour will take the best part of two years, right?
Thomas: Oh yeah; we will be touring to 2016 and then round that time we will start to think what comes next. Right now everything’s “Haven” related, you know (laughs)?
- Yesterday I found myself watching “One Cold Winter’s Night” which, to me, is one of the best DVD packages ever recorded – still many Kamelot fans, myself included, would have loved a new such recording to be made available to us at some stage. Is this part of your future plans at all?
Thomas: Yeah. We were actually going to do it last year but the problem is that the cost of creating such a product hasn’t changed but the sales of DVD’s have been reduced these last few years. Now if the band and the record company want to make such a DVD, they will have to calculate how much money they can offer for such a project and then whether that money will be enough to do it and right now it’s not. I don’t want to do such a thing with only a couple of cameras, you know – it’s got to be kickass as that is what our fans deserve! My plan is to do it on this album and this tour with all the special guests that we want; I want to get Charlotte and Troy on it – bring people from the past to make this a super special show, as you must always think that this might be your last one so you have to make sure that you do things right each time.
- The idea of funding such a project via Pledge Music or another such medium is not at all appealing to you?
Thomas: Not really, not yet…I don’t know. I want to talk to a few record companies as there are several that are interested so we want to see what they have in mind in terms of financing and whether we can do some proper marketing for it.
- Are you happy with the support you have been receiving from Napalm Records at the moment in terms of promotion and the formats that the new album will be available in?
Thomas: Yes; the formats will be awesome. The wooden box version of “Haven” is killer. I am also happy with the vinyl version, the different flags and the canvas painting so there will be many cool things available for those fans who are also collectors as they are all also very reasonably priced, which is important.
- Yep, in this day and age you really have to work hard to ensure that any physical product on offer presents the fan with something special, otherwise there is nothing stopping them from obtaining it via illegal downloading.
- Thomas, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I want to wish you all success with “Haven” and I am looking forward to both tonight’s show and your late autumn return to London for a more “Haven” focused show.
Thomas: Thank you too. Take care.
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12:00-13:00 WHITESNAKE Flesh & Blood (Frontiers)
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